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Who Decides?: Surrogate Decision-Making 

Who Decides?: Surrogate Decision-Making
Who Decides?: Surrogate Decision-Making
Legal and Ethical Issues in Emergency Medicine

Kenneth V. Iserson


To make a health care decision, individuals (whether it be the patient or an adult surrogate) must have decision-making capacity. Based on the principle of patient autonomy (respect for persons), such adults can make their own health care decisions, even if they contradict what their health care provider recommends. However, if a patient lacks decision-making capacity, his or her previously completed health care directive(s) take effect. These can be a living will, durable power of attorney for health care, Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form, or a similar document. In a similar manner, if an adult patient wishes to orally designate another adult to make his or her health care decisions (as in the case in this chapter), they may do that. These surrogates’ decisions carry the same weight as and replace any previously named surrogate. When no surrogate has been named, most hospital policies and many state statutes list the general hierarchy of people to be the patient’s surrogates.

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